While the onslaught of 140-character thumb-thoughts that regularly emanate from within the gilded walls of Trump Tower has dominated our meager national civic discourse, an entity with even greater power to affect our daily lives is about to be unleashed upon us:
The Arizona Legislature begins its session on Monday, Jan. 9.
Gov. Doug Ducey will deliver his State of the State address, and then our fate will be in the hands of those elected to the Arizona Senate and Arizona House.
State politics typically don’t have a lot of pizazz. Sure, there are differences and deals and infighting. There’s an undercard feel. We pay more attention to where the fires burn brighter, in Washington, D.C.
The stakes seem so high – we’re talking about the White House, right? Congress, lobbyists, big-business influence, special-interest groups, no one listening to the little guy. This is where the action is, isn’t it?
Sen. John McCain, Sen. Jeff Flake, Rep. Raúl Grijalva and Rep. Martha McSally — they’re household names. We know them, what they look like, what they do.
But what do you know about your state senators, your state representatives? What Arizona legislative district do you live in? Who is there in Phoenix, at the Capitol, to represent you?
Could you pick them out of a lineup?
Yet these elected state officials are the people who make decisions that directly affect Arizona kids — your kids and grandkids. They decide how much money to spend — or not — on public schools, on the Department of Child Safety, on helping low-income working families to pay for decent child care.
State elected officials are the ones who decide if Arizona should continue to spend more on private prisons while spending less on universities and pretty much nothing on community colleges in Maricopa and Pima counties.
State lawmakers decide if — and how far — the hand of the government will intrude into a person’s private medical decisions.
State lawmakers will also decide whether to waste time on silliness like declaring Arizona a sovereign state, or passing laws that would make it a crime for federal officials to enforce federal law within our state. They decide if public employees should be able to refuse requests for public documents.
These same folks will decide on infrastructure spending. Does that state road get repaired? What about that bridge? They decide which special interests will get preferential treatment in the state tax code, and which ones won’t.
They decide if tax breaks for corporations outrank helping poor families get to the doctor. They decide if the state has the right to overrule city council decisions, as they’ve attempted to do in response to Tucson’s stance on destroying guns.
Republicans will continue to control the governor’s office, the Legislature and elected state offices. The leadership has changed in the House and Senate, and that could be a positive step. Here’s hoping that we won’t see a replay of too many years when Republican leadership went behind closed doors and hashed out a state budget without input from the public, Democrats or even some fellow Republicans.
While the Trump train wreck keeps chugging along, it will be difficult to resist the temptation to tune it all out. That would be a grave mistake at the national level, but especially at the state level.
Arizonans must pay close, close attention to what is happening at the state Capitol. Make your thoughts known to your elected officials. Don’t relent, even when it appears no one is listening.
We must never allow Arizona lawmakers the luxury of our inattention.